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Organic Farming Can Reduce Rural Poverty: UN Study

Posted 2/3/06

Organic farming could help reduce rural poverty: UN study

Organic food production could offer a way out of poverty for many small
farmers in developing countries. But only if they receive government
support, says a new study conducted in India and China

South Asian farmers who have switched over from using synthetic fertiliser
to more eco-friendly, traditional forms of organic farming have earned more
and achieved a higher standard of living, says a recent study by the United
Nations. However, small farmers are often excluded from supportive
government reform programmes that encourage organic farming, says the UN's
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"In China and India, organic production is growing steadily," says the
Italian-sponsored report, presented by the IFAD¹s Phrang Roy and Caroline
Heider and senior Italian officials in Rome, on January 25. The study looked
at the role of organic agriculture in rural poverty reduction. Also, when
and under what conditions organic farming can be integrated into development

"The value of Chinese exports grew from less than $ 1 million in the
mid-1990s to about $ 142 million in 2003, with more than 1,000 companies and
farms certified. In India, there has also been remarkable growth, with about
2.5 million hectares under organic farming and 332 new certifications issued
during 2004," the report notes.

In addition to bringing about higher prices for agricultural produce, lower
unemployment and less rural migration, "organic farming reduces the health
risks posed by the use of toxic chemicals, as well as the high costs of
chemical pesticides and fertilisers. (Also), the environment benefits from
improved soil management and less-polluting techniques," said the IFAD.

However, the paradox is that Indian and Chinese farmers already producing
for export are the ones benefiting from this booming sector. Small farmers
are often denied government assistance in storing, processing, certifying
and exporting their produce, while domestic markets for organic produce are
"very limited in China and even scarcer in India". A large proportion of
organic products are sold informally without certification controls.

The study points out that for small farmers to want to make the soil
improvements that organic farming requires they needed security of tenure,
access to family labour and support organisations to help them with
training, loans and collective marketing.

In areas where conditions favour the adoption of organic agriculture by
small farmers, it could provide a long-term solution to poverty, while
reducing migration and improving the health conditions and environment for
entire communities.

But, in order to hold out hope for the world's small farmers, organic
farming must grow sustainably and not lose its "added value", or prices and
incomes would drop, says the study. If organic agriculture expands too
rapidly it may lose its added value and prices and incomes could decrease
considerably. Organic agriculture should not, therefore, be considered a
panacea that can be used to reduce poverty in any environment, at any time,
cautions the IFAD.

Source:, January 25, 2005, January 25, 2005


This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the
Ecological Farming Association <>